To the Editor:
Recently, Villages-News.com ran an article about the cost of the proposed independent fire district in The Villages. With the article, a table was used to show the current fire assessment and the proposed rates if the independent fire district passes the upcoming vote. While the table was accurate, it only tells a small part of the story.
First and foremost, the current non-ad valorem fire assessment is $124 per household. While every household pays that amount, it is not a fair representation of the dollar amount necessary to provide fire/EMS services. Sumter County has been reluctant to increase the fire assessment over the past several years, thus making the current $124 assessment low yet attractive to new residents and businesses.
Simply put, when all the fire assessment money is collected, the total amount received by The Villages Public Safety Department doesn’t come anywhere near the actual cost of providing service to the residences and commercial properties the Department serves. Also, by Florida statute, the fire assessment money cannot be used to pay for any emergency medical services. So, how does the Department make up the difference between the total fire assessment dollars and the total costs of operation?
District officials negotiate every year with Sumter County personnel to reach an agreed upon dollar figure to supplement the non-ad valorem assessment. The agreed-upon figure is taken from the county’s general fund and is a part of your general property tax. The current amount paid by the county over and above the fire assessment is just shy of $7.3 million.
Over the past week or so, I have heard several residents complain about the increase they will incur in their annual tax bill because of the newly formed independent fire district. Yes, the new fire assessment will be significantly higher than the current, under-funded assessment of $124.
With the new, independent fire district in The Villages, the county will no longer be responsible for paying the additional cost of fire/EMS service from the general fund. The $7.3 million dollars goes away. But will it?
Simply put, the $7.3 million should come back to the taxpayers who provide the money to fund the service in full. When (and if) those dollars are returned to the taxpayers, the new fire assessments listed in the table provided by the district would be appropriate. You would not be paying an additional amount into the county’s general fund to fully fund Villages Public Safety.
The big issue: Will the county commissioners decrease their annual budget by the amount no longer needed to fund Villages Fire? If they do, the estimated increase in the fire assessment will be covered by the commensurate decrease in property taxes.
County commissioners need to do the right thing and drop the current property tax assessment since they will no longer have to spend those dollars for fire and EMS service in The Villages.
Gail J. Lazenby
Village of Belle Aire